Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Health & Baby

Font Size

Smokers' Babies Show Drug Withdrawal

Smoking During Pregnancy Harmful With Just a Few Cigarettes
WebMD Health News

June 2, 2003 -- When a mother smokes during pregnancy -- even a few cigarettes a day -- her newborn is likely to be jittery, excitable, and difficult to console, signs of withdrawal similar to babies born to crack users.

That's the finding from a new study appearing in this month's issue of Pediatrics.

Much research looking at effects of smoking during pregnancy has focused on factors like low birth weight. Mothers who smoke during pregnancy are nearly twice as likely to have a low birth-weight baby. In fact, smoking is responsible for up to 30% of low birth-weight babies, writes lead researcher Karen L. Law, with Brown Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island.

First Look at Nicotine Effect on Baby Behavior

This is the first study to provide evidence of the effects of nicotine on the newborn's behavior, she writes. Cotinine, a chemical in nicotine used as a marker for nicotine levels, is readily passed from mother to infant -- with the fetus absorbing nearly as much as the mother does, she explains.

In their study, Law and colleagues identified 27 full-term babies born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy, and compared them with 29 babies born to nonsmokers.

Mothers were asked to estimate the number of cigarettes they smoked daily during pregnancy. Researchers also measured the amount of nicotine found in the mother's saliva after her baby was born.

These numbers were factored together through complex data analysis to produce a snapshot of the mothers' smoking patterns: Each smoked an average of seven cigarettes a day -- 13 cigarettes at the most, Law reports.

Researchers also analyzed the babies' behavior. Those in the "smoking group" were more excitable, more jittery, abnormally tense and rigid, requiring more handling to calm them, she says. They also showed greater stress to the nervous system, the digestive system, and their vision.

More Cigarettes, More Distress

The higher levels of cotinine, the more stressed the infants -- what researchers call a "dose-response" from smoking during pregnancy, she notes.

The nicotine-exposed infants were highly aroused and reactive, Law says. They showed signs of stress similar to withdrawal signs observed in infants born to mothers who did cocaine and other drugs, she writes.

Baby's First Year Newsletter

Because every week matters, get expert advice and facts on what to expect in your baby's first year.

Today on WebMD

mother on phone holding baby
When you should call 911.
parents and baby
Unexpected ways your life will change.
baby acne
What’s normal – and what’s not.
baby asleep on moms shoulder
Help your baby get the sleep he needs.

mother holding baby at night
mother with sick child
Chinese mother breast feeding newborn baby girl
Track Your Babys Vaccines
Baby Napping 10 Dos And Donts
Woman holding feet up to camera
Father kissing newborn baby
baby gear slideshow